The art of change comes to Leeds

A new exhibition at the Tetley in Leeds invites five artists to explore ideas of physical and psychological transformation. Yvette Huddleston reports.
Phoebe Cummings sculpture A Ripening Surveillance.Phoebe Cummings sculpture A Ripening Surveillance.
Phoebe Cummings sculpture A Ripening Surveillance.

It is always a pleasure to go to the Tetley. Quite apart from its consistently bold and interesting contemporary arts programming, the building itself – a former brewery and symbol of Leeds’ industrial heritage – is loaded with rich historical associations and is fascinating to wander around.

The latest exhibition, Material Environments, taps into the building’s past as a place of production with five artists – Phoebe Cummings, Keith Harrison, Serena Korda, Harold Offeh and Joanna Piotrowska – invited to work across the gallery spaces to experiment with ideas of physical and psychological transformation. One of the main aims of the show, says guest curator Ben Roberts, is to give audiences a glimpse into the creative practice of contemporary artists. “We wanted to find a way in which people could engage with that creative process. Artists are involved in ongoing forms of research that allow them to create artworks along the way, and all the artists in the show were selected because there is something in their practice that has a forward-facing, public experimentation element to it.” The idea is that the artworks created by the group will evolve over the course of the show, operating as developing installations, workshops or laboratories. Phoebe Cummings’ extraordinarily beautiful and delicate sculpture, A Ripening Surveillance, in the central atrium is a perfect example. The piece is a continuation of her research into baroque ceramic decoration, particularly with reference to flora and fauna. It is a large-scale hot-house plant made of wet clay and she will be working on it throughout the exhibition’s run.

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Photographer Joanna Piotrowska’s series of photographs explore the notion of ‘shelter’. She invited her subjects to recreate the familiar children’s game of making a ‘den’ out of domestic objects and she then photographed them.

As she notes in her commentary when children make those kinds of temporary structures, the context of playing is understood, whereas seeing an adult in a makeshift shelter has all sorts of other, darker connotations. The images are very powerful indeed.

Serena Korda mostly works with performance and sculpture but for the show she has made a new soundwork Clairaudience, using field recordings taken at Todmorden and around Leeds, which encourages audiences to listen more closely to their environment. Harold Offeh has created a piece entitled The Real Thing: Towards an Authentic Live Archive. In our increasingly carefully curated lives, Offeh explores ideas of reality and authenticity and his considered yet playful evolving installation brings together images, artefacts, performances and workshops.

And Keith Harrison – whose whole artistic practice is an ongoing process of experimental investigations and therefore perfectly suited to this show – has made an intriguing-looking sculptural installation that brews large quantities of CO2 gas.

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For the Tetley’s artistic director Bryony Bond, Material Environments, like all their exhibitions, is about finding new ways to engage their audience. “That means not only displaying work but also being involved in making work and inviting people in to see artists at work,” she says. “It’s about making contemporary art more accessible.”

To July 8. For details of associated workshops and events visit

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